Saturday, February 25, 2012

Some thoughts on private schools, public schools, and school funding

With the release of the Gonski review into school funding everyone is back out with their flaming arrows about Private vs. Public education. 

My husband teaches at an Anglican school.  He is a strong supporter of private education.   Our son attends the same school.   I attended a small Christian school for high school, and my two years of teaching were in a Christian school.   I’m in the process of deciding where I stand, on an ideological level and a pragmatic level. 

And so a few thoughts.  Feel free to rebut them.

  • Private schools are not all equal.  Not all private schools are Geelong Grammar.
  • Public schools are not all equal.  They are not all dens of iniquity, devoid of morals and failing all their students.    
  • Most religious schools follow their State’s (or now the National) Curriculum, but make some modifications.  It’s easier than writing a whole new curriculum, especially if your school is already seriously underfunded. They don’t just spend all day indoctrinating their students and ignoring Maths. 
  • Private schools get more Federal funding than public schools, but public schools get a lot more State funding.  I think on average public schools are funded double per student than private schools.  I can’t believe people still can’t get their head around this one.
  • Education is a good thing.  I think it’s a huge marker between Developed nations and Developing nations.   High levels of literacy and numeracy theoretically should keep corrupt governments out, aid in preventative medicine, reduce crime rates, increase productivity, and generally advance a nation.  Every child in Australia should have access to a good education. 
  • Not all teachers are rubbish.  Falling literacy and numeracy rates aren’t squarely to blame on our teachers, though improving teacher quality would be part of the solution. 
  • There is an argument that if governments removed private school funding then the state school system would collapse under the weight of the influx of new students, and the Goulburn School Strike is often cited as an example of what would happen in such a case.  The assumption here is that funding would be removed suddenly, all consequently underfunded schools would close their doors immediately and parents would have no choice but to send their children to the local public school.  Such a situation could be avoided with gradual removal of funding, and planning towards such a move.   If funding was phased out, then gradually fees would be increased, schools would need to find alternate income or find other ways to cut costs.  If fees increased, there would be certain points where different families would say they can’t afford it any longer.  
  • There is another argument that private schools save the government money, in the vicinity of $6000 per student.  Some families would still send their children to private schools even if there was no funding, so that would actually save the government $12000 per student.  Of the remaining students, there would be a lot of costs simply absorbed into current school costs.  Not all private schools run at full capacity.  There are 8 places for students in my husband’s class this year, and I think similar places in the other two classes of his year level.  (Other grades are full.) When I was teaching, I had a Year 9/10 music class with only 12 students.  My graduating year at school had only 4 students.  Surely such small class sizes are not an efficient use of teachers!   Also, many school resources are shared between classes.  Not every student in the school needs to be using a soccer ball, or a computer, or a trundle wheel at the same time.  A small increase in student numbers would be an even smaller increase in many resources.   Infrastructure would be a hurdle. 
  • There are a large number of Christian schools not attached to a church, or at least not receiving large amounts of funds from a church.  Many of these could not function any longer without government funding, and would lose a lot of enrolments if they increased their fees.  Is there a genuine need for such schools that requires government subsidies? I’m not sure. Maybe there is, maybe there isn’t.
  • Private schools can pick and choose their teachers and students.  This means they can have the best teachers and the best students.   Teachers often want to work in private schools because of the overall better behaved students, not because of increased pay.  Most private schools pay on par or below the current State award.  
  • Are there a lot of inefficiencies in the public system?  I don’t have a clue.  But I would hazard a guess that teacher’s payrises attached to length of teaching, and teaching being an almost guaranteed job is one inefficiency that could be looked into.  
  • My experience of teaching in a private school was that cutting costs meant cutting teacher’s salaries.  I was paid $8000 a year less than my public school counterparts.  (Which wasn’t voluntary.  I just wasn’t told, and not bold enough to challenge when I found out.)  But running a school is expensive.  An experienced teacher of a class of 28 (Education Queensland’s target for grades 4-10) costs $3000 per student; most private schools cap at 25 or 28.  The ancillary staff, the principal, insurance, computers, books, buildings, furniture, sporting equipment, toilet paper: it all costs extra.  
I don't have a stand yet on whether private schools should receive government funding.  Go ahead and add to my thoughts in the comments. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Travelling Light: Part Two

The last time we flew down to Brisbane to visit grandparents I stood and laughed at our luggage.   We had the same amount for the four of us that I used to travel with on my own.   

Two converse travel experiences taught me the benefit of not taking everything I could possibly imagine needing on a holiday.

First, we went to Melbourne, in winter, when our eldest was about 21 months old.  We struggled to stay under our weight limit, and struggled to manage our two big suitcases, big duffle bag, stroller, two decent size carry on bags plus the baby.   We didn’t really use a lot of what we packed.

Then, a little under a year later, my eldest and I flew to Brisbane with my mum for four days and only took carry on luggage.  Mum checked in a small suitcase, which meant I was able to buy a couple of things while we were down there, but all I actually needed to take for me and my 2-year-old was a small bag and a medium-size backpack.  The backpack was just for our jumpers and a snack for the plane.   

I can assure you, that second experience was far better than the first, and it challenged me to think about what I pack. 

In the last ten years we have probably averaged 2 ½ trips a year, mostly by plane, and I have gone from needing a huge suitcase to fitting everything for a week away in a good sized handbag.  It’s incredibly freeing to get off a plane and just walk out, without having to stop at the baggage carousel.  It’s also so much easier to get from the airport to wherever you’re going with two young kids and minimal luggage.  I hate flying to start with, so not having to lug big bags around makes it far more relaxing. 

I still take far too much with me, but here’s a few lessons I’ve learnt about packing light:

1. Do some research and found out where you can wash.  The number of outfits I pack now is based on how often I can get to a washing machine.  Laundromats aren’t cheap, but the biggest cost is the dryer.  Cut drying costs by doing one cycle through the dryer and hanging out the clothes in your room to finish drying overnight.  Pack clothes that won’t take as long to dry. 
2. Choose clothes that take up less space.  
3. If you’re concerned about being bored by only three or four outfits for a week or two, take things that all go together so that you can mix and match.  Two weeks isn’t really that long to be wearing the same few things. 
4. Take as few shoes as you can get away with. Shoes are bulky.  
5. Take less toiletries.  You don’t need a huge bottle of shampoo if you are only going to wash your hair twice while you are gone.  Don’t take spares of anything, either.  Most places have shops if you happen to run out.  
6. Take less entertainment.  You are going on holidays!  Spend the time chatting with your travelling partners or the people you’re visiting!  Take in the sights!  Take one book and then find a secondhand bookshop to exchange it at if you do end up needing another one.   Take one less toy for the kids.  My experience is that they rarely play with what you take and instead find new and exciting things at the destination, or they want to play games like I Spy.    
7. Find accommodation that provides linen, including towels.  
8. After you’ve packed everything, take something out.  

What are your tips for not over-packing?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Travelling Light: part one

After my second baby was born I needed to carry a lot more stuff around with me, or so I thought.  I went and bought a nice big handbag to fit all this extra stuff.  It was a beautiful handbag.  Black leather, big internal pockets. I loved it as soon as I saw it and bought it on impulse, even though I had been looking carefully for the right bag and this bag was a lot more expensive than I was planning to pay.  I justified the price by saying I would use this bag for the next five years.

Three months later I ditched the bag and bought one less than a quarter of the size, that wasn’t quite so big and bulky.  I am rarely away from the house for more than three or four hours, so there aren’t many things I can’t cope not having in that time.  What I do carry is:

- Wallet
- Keys
- Mobile phone
- Prescription sunglasses/glasses (these are in my bag so that when I walk inside with my sunglasses still on I can swap them without going back to the car). 
- Fold up shopping bag
- Spare disposable nappy.  Just one, and it only gets used once or twice a month.  I keep two more spares and spare clothes in the car, but in 15 months have used those spares twice.  
- Small plastic bag for a dirty nappy.
- Tube of Pure Wipes.  Travel sized baby wipes seem to dry out quicker than I go through them.
- All my rewards cards in a rubber band (this means I can carry a smaller wallet)
- Lip gloss (not really necessary, but I like having it)
- Lip balm
- Pen
- Comb (though I don’t recall having ever used this!)

Occasionally I will also have a camera, a water bottle, a snack, a toy, an iPod, my Keep Cup, an extra nappy, or a book, depending on where we are going and how long will be gone.  But I don’t carry all of those things everywhere, all of the time.  Just what I’m likely to need.  

The list of what other people will need on their person each day will look different to mine.  I would love to be able to carry less with me, but I haven’t worked out how to get it down any smaller.   Some people walk around with just their mobile phone, some cash and a house key in their pocket.  How wonderful would that be!    

What about you?  Do you lug a lot around with you each day? Or do you carry just the absolute bare minimum?  What things are essential for you to carry with you? 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Placebo Necklace: A story of an irrational purchase

Sometimes I research thoroughly before making a purchase. Sometimes my emotions win out and I make a rash decision. 
Which is how I ended up with an amber teething necklace for my son. 
After a string of sleepless nights, I decided anything was worth a try, even if it was something completely irrational.  Like a bit of fossilised resin that gives off some sort of analgesic as it is warmed by your skin.  (Honestly, try a few weeks of sleepless nights with your crying baby before you tell me how ridiculous that is.) 
After three months or so of using it inconsistently I feel confident to say: it doesn’t work.  
Here’s the crazy thing.  It didn’t occur to me that I should find out whether it actually works, rather than taking anecdotal evidence on parenting forums as gospel.   Somehow I got suckered into handing over $30 for one of these things that looks incredibly cute on my baby, but doesn’t do much more.
In reality, I think it is a placebo.  Parenting can be stressful at times, especially when you darling little one can’t tell you what on earth is wrong, and everything seems to be wrong.  When things feel like they are all going to pieces it feels like he is always crying, or she never sleeps.  (Conversely, when life is going swimmingly, sometimes we get shocked by an “out of character” behaviour.)  Then, someone suggests ‘try this’ and we do.  Because we are expecting it to fix the problem we start to look at things more positively and are convinced that it was the magical device that we just shelled out a month’s salary for.  I started out skeptical about the teething necklace, but was willing to try anything.  I thought that maybe it was making a difference, but ultimately I didn’t notice any difference between the days when he wore it and the days that he didn’t. 
The other way it works is that some babies teeth better than others.  When I hear stories like ‘I put one on my baby at 4 months old and I’m not game to take it off in case he gets grumpy’ I get more skeptical.   I have two children.  The first one cut sixteen of his twenty teeth with barely a whimper.  The second one has  just had tooth number twelve break through - his fourth molar - and he has let us know about every single tooth as it has come through.  If I had put the necklace on my older son before his first tooth erupted, and then left it on for the next eighteen months, I might be convinced that the necklace is amazing too.  Some kids just teethe better than others.  
Logic has finally got the better of me. Just because it is natural doesn’t mean it is good for my baby, and just because it has a ‘long’ history of being used in folk medicine doesn’t mean that it really does work.  I sold the necklace to another desperate mother on Ebay for $12.50. 

Friday, February 10, 2012

Rewarded for what?

Rewards Cards.  Loyalty Cards.  Membership Cards.  The cards that get scanned or stamped with every purchase for a discount, or the tenth purchase free, or a voucher at the end of the quarter.    Love them, or hate them? 

The benefits of rewards or loyalty cards is getting something for nothing.  Earn points for buying groceries at Coles and convert them to a gift card later.  Five loaves of bread, get one free at Brumby’s.  5% of my purchase loaded onto my card at Robin’s Kitchen for me to take off my next purchase.  Member’s specials at Spotlight.  10% off at Prouds.  Free stuff. Just for shopping.  

But is it really free?  These businesses don’t offer loyalty bonuses and rewards out of generosity.  The cost of the reward is built into the overall cost of items in the store, or something else, such as customer service or shop atmosphere, is reduced to cover the cost.  

You are technically being paid for market research.  Coles can keep track of what sort of things you buy and when, then market to you accordingly.  They can also determine what products they should have on their shelves and where, and what sort of promotions to have in store.  

Plus, it’s a clever advertising trick. The cards make us loyal to a particular store.  As much as I hate it, I know that I’m more likely to buy from Robin’s Kitchen than from another store because I have a rewards card.  Gloria Jeans not only has free babycinos for the kidlets, cheap raisin toast, but every tenth coffee is free, so I choose them over another cafe.  There’s a psychological pull: we have to shop at those places because the more we buy the more we are rewarded. Words like ‘membership’, ‘club’ and ‘VIP’ make us feel that we are special and are more valued by these stores than others.  The ‘exclusivity’ of membership means that the great deal feels even better because it’s not available to ‘regular shoppers’.

More than that, it’s a clever advertising trick to encourage us to buy more.  We might not hesitate to buy that extra little thing so much because in the back of our minds we know that the more we spend, the more free stuff we get.  Or we know that we have to spend over a certain amount for these points to count anyway, so we just buy that extra little thing that we ‘would have bought anyway’.  And the towel set that we didn’t really need but bought it because it was 30% off for members only.  Without membership you might not have even seen the deal.    

For the 23 cards I carry around with me, I don’t think I have received much more than $100 value in the last year, and half I haven’t even used.   I’m considering getting rid of most of them, but the enticement of FREE! and BONUS! is still very strong.  I might start by letting go of cards for shops I haven’t bought from in several years. 

What about you?  Do you use or shun reward and loyalty cards?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

This is Not a Mummy Blog.

This is not a Mummy Blog.  I don’t think it is, anyway.    Though, it is a blog, and there are people in this house who call me Mummy, so maybe it is.  

If you come here looking for my best playdough recipe, I’ll tell you there’s a recipe on the back of the packet of the McKenzie’s brand of cream of tartar.  (And if you put it all in a bowl and add hot water, rather than heat it in a saucepan, it’s much easier to clean up.)

If you come here looking for great craft ideas, I’ll tell you to avoid using glitter because it makes a mess.   I have a love-hate relationship with craft with little kids:  I love the idea and I hate the practicalities of it.  My eldest son would beg to paint, I’d set it all up, he’d paint three lines, I’d clean it all up.   My second son may not see a paintbrush before he starts Kindy. 

If you come here looking for tips on how to be super-organised and how to menu plan and stick to a budget and follow a tight routine to keep your house, I will send you to or  My house usually looks like chaos and I break out in a cold sweat at the mention of routine.   

If you come here looking for simple, easy, cheap, nutritious meals, and fancy, scrumptious, baked delicacies, all with detailed photos, you might be disappointed.  I love cooking, and I like to cook most things from scratch where practical.  But I am really bad at making it look nice.  And I’m not interested in experimenting.

If you’ve come here to read cute and funny stories about my kids, you might get lucky on occasion.  But I’m not here to write about my kids.   

You might, however, read about parenting, simple living, Christianity, books, environmental issues, education, society, music, and life in North Queensland.  Those are some of the things I love, the things I do every day.   Parenting is mostly about my life with little kids, but my sole identity is not wrapped up in being a parent to small children.  They are only small for a short time, albeit intense.  Sometimes my whole life is wrapped up in nappies and tantrums and not sleeping and building train tracks and colouring in and starting school and the playroom as vomited through my house.  But that’s not all I am.   

The Philosophy of Playdough is about that crazy juxtaposition of being a mum constantly, but still wanting to retain my identity as someone who loves to think and explore ideas, and a way of expressing that identity through the sleepless haze of toddlerhood. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Fresh Start

This is my first post of my new blog.

What?  New blog?  This blog has been round for ages.  Where'd everything go?  

Well it's my blog and I can do what I like.  I've taken everything off, given the blog a fresh look, a fresh name, a fresh feel.

But, Stuss, you quit blogging eons ago! 

Yes, I did.  But I still want to be a writer when I grow up, so I need some practice.  And sometimes I like to think about things that have nothing to do with the preschool crowd, yet the short statured people in the house and always keen on listening to Mummy's ramblings, and the other grown up isn't always at home.

Subscribe.  Bookmark me.  Just come and visit when you're bored.  I'd love to have you along.